Inspiring Changemakers in the Section

February 10, 2022

From “Whirlwind” Johnson and Arthur Ashe to Tiafoe and Montgomery, Black players in the Mid-Atlantic have blazed many trails in tennis and continue to make an impact on and off the court, inspiring generations of players across the region. 


Barriers have been broken because of people like Dr. Robert “Whirlwind” Johnson who created opportunities for aspiring junior players. It is his legacy that inspired Corinne Chau, Mid-Atlantic 2020 Serve it Forward Section award winner, high school tennis and tournament player, to make a positive impact on and off the court.


For Corinne, tennis has family ties. Her parents met on a tennis court and each of her siblings learned to play. She picked up her first tennis racquet at age four and since then she has never put it down. 


“[Tennis] ran in the family. Once I started playing I thought it was really fun and cool. When I was little, I had two main coaches: my dad and Coach Shantha Chandra and, for a short time, Coach Ponell Harvey. I have learned a lot from all three of them,” said 16-year-old Chau. 


The community Corinne has created through tennis is everlasting. “Through tennis, I’ve made friends and have met amazing role models. Tennis has also given me a competitive space where I can be myself and have fun,” she said.  “I used to play tournaments and JTT and I hope to get back to doing both soon.”

In the meantime, Corinne draws inspiration from trailblazers Venus and Serena Williams whom she considers two of the bravest people ever. She also finds inspiration from Naomi Osaka. “I like her drive, the way she pays attention to her and others’ well-being, her cultural awareness, and her pride in being both Black and Asian, just like me.”


Now Corinne is on her way to inspire changemakers in the Mid-Atlantic by being one herself. 


To honor the legacy of African Americans in tennis, especially the legacy of Dr. Robert “Whirlwind” Johnson, she created the “Whirlwind Reading Challenge.” Her mission is to help raise money to renovate Dr. Johnson’s historic house in Lynchburg, Virginia, and to turn it into a museum. 


Corinne started supporting the Whirlwind Johnson Foundation in 2019 through a read-a-thon with the goal of reading 1,000 pages and raising $1,000. As of today, she has raised more than $4,000 exceeding both her reading and fundraising goals. 


“I was inspired to raise money for the Whirlwind Johnson Foundation when I saw a documentary on Althea Gibson,” said Corinne, who is also a member of the American Tennis Association (ATA). “I learned that after Dr. J created the ATA’s Junior Development Program, he and his friend, Dr. Hubert Eaton, trained Ms. Althea and Dr. J trained Arthur Ashe a few years later.”


She added, “They broke the color barrier in tennis together. Ms. Althea won singles, doubles or mixed doubles at the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open and Arthur Ashe won the men’s singles title at all of tennis’ Grand Slams except the French Open.


“He was also the first Black player to play Davis Cup! Arthur Ashe and Ms. Althea definitely paved the way for me and other people of color to play and it all started in Dr. Johnson’s backyard. I can’t believe I actually got to play on his historic tennis court!”


Corinne is honoring Dr. Johnson’s legacy in the Mid-Atlantic Section and beyond by giving back. She believes success is putting hard work and dedication into the change you want to make. 


“When I found out that the foundation was restoring Dr. Johnson’s historic house, I knew I had to help. And as of right now, I have raised a total of $4,314 for the foundation, just by reading,” she said. 


Corinne Chau continues to inspire change and leaves a lasting impact on and off the court in the Mid-Atlantic. When she is not starting for Howard High School’s varsity tennis team, she is training at JTCC in College Park, Maryland. 


Over the years, Corinne has made significant strides on the tennis court. In 2018, she and her father won USTA Mid-Atlantic’s Father-Daughter Championships. And last year, in 2021, Corinne had an undefeated regular high school tennis season and was one of three stand-out players who led Howard HS Varsity Tennis to its first-ever Regional Championship title with Coach Chip Boling. This cemented her selection by the Baltimore Sun for its 2021 Howard County Girls Tennis All-County Team. 


Her love and passion for tennis along with her leadership skills and determination energizes those who have the opportunity to share the court with her. 


“To be a leader in the tennis community is to know your cause, speak out for your cause, and not to be afraid of whatever hard work lies ahead,” Corinne said. 


If you are interested in learning more about Corinne’s work to support the Whirlwind Johnson Foundation or if you would like to donate to her Whirlwind Reading Challenge, visit https://whirlwindreadingchallenge.weebly.com/donate.html.


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USTA Mid-Atlantic is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to promoting tennis and its physical, social, and emotional health benefits. Learn about our impact in the Section and how USTA Mid-Atlantic creates community, character, and well-being.

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